Angie's LIST Guide to
Tattoo artists

Though the instruments to create them have changed, tattoos have been a part of human existence for at least 2,000 years. Because they are intended to be permanent, tattoos require forethought.
 

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Tattoos are permanent and can be big decisions. Do your research and find the right tattoo shop and artist and be aware of potential risks and complications. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Kiki S.)
Tattoos are permanent and can be big decisions. Do your research and find the right tattoo shop and artist and be aware of potential risks and complications. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member Kiki S.)
 
 

What to know before getting a tattoo

Some people may get tattooed on impulse, but to reduce health risks, as well as the chance of next-day remorse, take your time. Remember that not all ink shops are equal. Follow these tips to reduce risks and complications:

  • Ask friends for recommendations. Consider how Angie's List can help. Members can access local consumer reviews on tattoos and piercings as well as more than 550 other service categories.
  • Visit several shops. Observe the general cleanliness. Ask if the tattoo artist is certified, uses sterile equipment and wears gloves while working.
  • Observe the artists. Make sure they use needles that come directly from the package.
  • Take the time to review the artists' portfolios.
  • Avoid asking your chosen artist to go outside her or his comfort zone.
  • If you have allergies, ask the tattoo artist about dye ingredients.

Health risks of getting a tattoo

People have been getting tattoos for at least 2,000 years, but a long history does not eliminate the health risks of getting a tattoo.

Be aware of possible risks, which include:

Contracting diseases: Because needles and blood are involved in tattooing, there is a chance of contracting such diseases as HIV, tetanus, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. A clean environment and sterile needles are essential to reduce the risk.

Infection: During the first few weeks, the tattoo may become infected. An untreated infection can lead to advanced blood poisoning or even death.

Allergic reaction: The possibly of an allergic reaction occurs each time you get a tattoo, no matter where you get it. Red, green, yellow and blue dyes are more likely to cause a reaction. Be aware that each brand of dye may contain different chemicals and fillers. Also, know that an allergic reaction could occur years after you get a tattoo.

Organ damage: As the ink deteriorates or you undergo a tattoo-removal process, the toxic end products of the dye could harm your kidney or liver

MRI interference: Certain types of dyes may interfere with such medical devices as MRIs. The tattoo may blur an MRI image, and the dye may cause a sharp burning sensation during an MRI.

Other risks: Raised bumps, called granulomas, may form around tattoo ink deposits. Also, scarring can result from the tattooing process.

Choosing a tatoo design and location

Take your time when choosing the style and location of a tattoo, since it's intended to be permanent and the removal process can be painful and involved.

Style options for tattooing include black wash, new school, old school, fine line, Oriental, Celtic knot work and tribal. Each style features different shading, colors and lines. For example, old school uses simple lines with minimal colors while new school resembles graffiti, with bold lines and bright colors.

There are many areas of the body to consider for locating a tattoo. Be sure to pick an inconspicuous and easily covered area if you want the option of hiding the tattoo.

If pain is a concern, consider these gender-specific guidelines:

Women: For women, pain is generally less for tattoos applied to the abdomen, buttocks, thighs or shoulders. Pain tends to be more severe with tattoos on the ribs, spine or ankles.

Men: For men, tattooing pain is generally less intense on the buttocks, arms and back. Areas that are more sensitive to pain include the chest, abdomen and spine.

Tattoo removal

Getting rid of a tattoo could require many months visiting a removal specialist. Take time to find a professional who keeps your safety in mind. Some tips:

Inquire about medical training. Most states don't require laser technicians to have a medical background. Consider a location with a medical director or doctor on staff.

Ask how long they've done tattoo removal. Anyone can perform laser therapy, so inquire about the training the technician has received. Ask how many tattoo removals they've done and request to see before and after photos.

Discuss details. Did the specialist explain the procedure during your initial consultation? Make sure you're clear on whether pain medication is offered, how to care for your skin afterward, and what precautions are taken to reduce side effects, such as loss of skin color.

Verify the laser. Laser equipment comes in many different wavelengths and some aren't strong enough to remove tattoos. Ask if the equipment is a medical-grade device and FDA-approved for all skin types to remove tattoo pigment.

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